Taos just got even sweeter thanks to Chokola Bean to Bar
By Teresa Dovalpage
There has never been a better time to be a chocoholic. Many chocolate makers are moving away from large-scale, industrial production and focusing on small, handmade batches made with organic ingredients.
Master chocolatier Javier Abad points out that chocolate, like wine, comes in a range of distinctive notes, flavors and nuances.
“The best ones are carefully crafted and intended to be enjoyed while relishing the experience,” he said. “At Chokola Bean to Bar, we make sure that this experience becomes a memorable one.”
The store, just off Historic Taos Plaza, is owned by Abad and his wife, Debi Vincent. They sell hot chocolate shots with lavender, raspberry, vanilla bean and other flavors. Among their most popular specialty drinks are Drinking Elixir Chocolate in seven flavors, The Snow Fall (hot chocolate with a scoop of white chocolate and vanilla ice cream) and the Chokola milkshake.
They have also created tartlets, biscotti, a variety of truffles, chocolate-chip croissants and ice cream. And there are “tasting trios” that include chocolate mousse, bars, nibs and bonbons.
But there is no doubt that the jewel in the cocoa crown is the single-origin chocolate bar. They are made with beans harvested in one specific location, be it Madagascar, Peru or Guatemala. The bars contain only two ingredients: organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar.
“We do the cleaning, roasting, cracking and grinding of the beans, and finally form the bars by hand,” Abad said. “It’s a long process, but very satisfying — as satisfying as the final result.”
An interesting fact is that the flavors vary depending on the region where the beans came from.
“You can notice the difference between a bar from Madagascar and another one from Peru,” Vincent said. “The weather conditions, the kind of soil and the climate influence the taste of the beans.”
In commercial chocolates the taste is diluted by too much sugar, additives, GMO ingredients, cocoa butter and vanilla. In the single-origin bars, their unique flavor is carefully preserved.
“That’s why, at our shop, everything starts with the bean,” Abad said. “They have strong personalities and we make them shine in our products.”
Taste first, buy later
There are always beautifully arranged sampling plates on the store counter. Patrons are encouraged to “taste first, buy later.”
“That’s how confident we are in our chocolate,” said Abad. “Most people try a bit of this and bit of that, then decide to sit back and savor a whole serving. We are also happy to answer any question they have about the production process, the origin of the beans and anything else they want to know.”
The shop has an open-floor plan so clients and passersby can follow the chocolate-making process from beginning to end. The delicious aroma of roasted cacao fills the shop as the alchemy takes place.
“Chokola Bean to Bar offers a feast for all senses,” Abad said. “That’s how we envisioned it.”
The evolution of a business: bonded by love and chocolate
Abad, a native of the Basque Country in Spain, met Taoseña Debi Vincent in Merida, Venezuela. Vincent, who had lived there for several years, started her own artisan chocolate company at age 19, when she was awarded an internship in Chocolates El Rey.
“We got married and decided to continue working together in this delicious business,” Abad said. “We opened a company called Chocolates La Mucuy. It was our first step together on a road we are still traveling today.”
The Venezuela-based business was booming, but in 2008 the young couple moved to Taos to take care of Debi’s grandmother, Jenny Vincent. (Vincent, a well-known folk singer and lifelong human rights activist, passed away in May 2016 at 103 years of age.)
Once in Taos, they entered into a brief partnership with Golightly Cashmere, but in 2014 they went solo again with a company named Casa Chokola. “Casa” means home in Spanish and Chokola is the colloquial way the word “chocolate” is pronounced in Spain and Latin America.
“Debi and I always planned to have a storefront and sell our products directly to the public,” Abad said. “That was our dream since day one.”
The dream became a reality this summer. After taking a bean-to-bar workshop with renowned chocolate experts Chloe Doutre-Roussel and Maria Fernanda DiGiaccobe, they changed the company name to Chokola Bean to Bar and opened their shop and factory in John Dunn Plaza.
“The name change reflects the new direction we are taking and our commitment to the bean-to-bar movement,” Abad said.
But what exactly is the movement about?
“It was started to give true chocolatiers like us a better control of the chocolate-making process, from its early stages to the actual production of the bars,” Abad said. “The goal is to preserve the beans’ distinctive taste as we lovingly coax the flavors out of them. A lot of hard work goes into every bar that we make, but the results are definitely worthwhile.”
There is also a social component; Chocolate makers deal directly with growers, making it possible to have a more ethical and sustainable production.
“We pay farmers above-market prices, about four times more than fair-trade buyers,” Abad said. “By trading directly with growers we can help them improve the living conditions in their communities. We split profits in a more equitable way than traditional chocolate-making companies. It’s a win-win situation for the farmers, the makers and the general public that gets to enjoy the best artisan chocolate in the world.”
Chocolate makers vs. chocolate melters: an important distinction
Chocolate makers buy the cocoa beans and process them into chocolate from scratch. Chocolate melters melt chocolate made by others and use it as the couverture for their confections. Abad and Vincent only use melted chocolate from other manufacturers for their bonbons. All their other products are made with chocolate beans that have been processed in-house.
Chokola Bean to Bar is located at 106 B Juan Largo Lane, just off Taos Plaza.
Phone: (575) 779 6174